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Hero is 2 and a half and LOVES playdates. If I tell him that his friend Zaccy is coming over, he’s over the moon and asks me every two minutes if he’s here yet. I openly admit that I love playdate days too [and I too check the clock to see it it’s time yet] – I get to see a grown up who shares the same life experiences I’m enjoying at the moment, and relax for a while. Yet it’s so common to hear people say that playdates at this age are JUST so that moms can get together and have a cup of tea. They aren’t.
We all know that children learn best through play. Playdates can have so many benefits for your children, and whereas a little planning is needed if they’re going to be something that you want to repeat, you don’t need to be an expert on them into order to be a success. For anyone who has no idea where to start, or how to do that little bit of planning, we’ve come up with our five steps for planning a playdate.When I started thinking about it I realised that playdates are a bit like movie productions. So I’ve approached these steps as if I was about to make a playdate blockbuster.
1. Casting. This is about everyone knowing their roles. I know my place during playdates, it’s the sofa [just kidding]. But honestly, I try and remember that I’m essentially a facilitator of the playdate, not a teacher or an instructor. If it’s my playdate, I chose who is coming to the playdates and I remember that sitting back to have a chat with the other moms is okay – and what both Hero and I need. Hero needs me to take a little step back from always being his constant companion, and I need a little space sometimes too to be with my own circle.2. Scouting for Locations. Before you decide that the park is absolutely the best place for your playdate, think about the rest of the little people coming to that playdate. Is that the best place for them too? When our oldest was two, we called him “the runner” – he literally couldn’t sit still anywhere, and when there was an open space, it was like watching a cross between Usain Bolt off the blocks and Mo Farrah for the endurance. It was very stressful any time we were invited to a restaurant or a park near roads.
3. Setting the Scene. Again, think about who is coming over – or what you’re going to be doing. If you think it might get messy, wet or where you’re going needs an extra layer of clothing or change of shoes [or extra socks!] whatever, forewarn the other parents.4. Play to your actors’ talents. It depends on your goal for the playdate. Is it to introduce new little people to each other, is it to help with sharing, to encourage them to be more confident or something else?
At two and a half, Hero is learning to share. He’s quite lucky that he has two older brothers to teach him, but he’s still learning. So, for playdates it’s important to make sure that there are enough spades in the sandpit, paintbrushes in the pot or baskets if we’re out scavenger hunting so that everyone can have one – or share if they want to. Think about the skills that you want your little one to be learning – speech, movement – and look for activities that encourage those kinds of things. Anticipate conflicts – one ball to share between two could mean that it’s an immediate activity disaster – five balls and two little people could lead to giggles and sharing as they kick as many balls as they can.
The best playdates that Hero remembers I’m sure – or rather the playdates I remember the most laughter coming from are where he’s been bouncing on the trampoline with him, or playing hide and seek. Sometimes you don’t need toys, or any material objects.5. Direct. Remember I said that everyone needs to know their role? Hero is still so little that he needs to be given a little direction sometimes with toys or activities if it’s not immediately obvious what he is or isn’t allowed to do – and so do his friends. A couple of minutes modelling how to use something, whilst showing how to interact with others – like digging in the sand to fill a bucket and asking his little friend if he wants to help fill it, is usually all that’s needed, but it boosts their confidence. If they’re feeling a little shy, this helps to build their little friendship bridges a little faster. As they get older, the direction becomes less and they’re happier to initiate play with each other – but don’t assume that simply because you and your little one’s mom are friends, that your children know how to play with each other. Also remember that your little one might be less confident than usual if there are other parents in the room that they don’t know. Activities that draw our little ones’ attention away from the grownups and immerse them in playing are always the best ones.On the flip side, don’t get too involved! If I and each of the other moms became completely immersed in directing and helping every step of the playdate, then that’s not really play – and the chances are that the little ones wouldn’t get to interact and would look to mom every time for the next step and encouragement. What Hero needs is a little guide towards independence from me, with the knowledge that I’m still close enough if he needs me.
So there are our five steps to planning a playdate! We hope they’re helpful – but more importantly, that your playdates are fun!